A while back, I saw the trailer for Machine Gun Preacher [insert massive rant here] and felt a sense of pity for the consistently appalling representation of Sudanese in both Arab and western films. Thankfully, I stumbled on a White-Texan-savior, without a klashinkov in hand, but with a strong message and a beacon of hope for Sudanese cinema in the form of an independent film depicting a Sudanese family’s adjustment to life in America called Faisal Goes West.
Bentley Brown, who has grown up in Chad and worked in Sudan, is the award-winning filmmaker behind Faisal Goes West, or as he is also known as “that khawaja that speaks better Arabic than me.” As an aficionado of independent films and all things Sudan, I was very excited to make a pledge to back the project financially but felt that it’s not enough, so I called up Bentley to see how I can help (Also, I wanted to talk to the khawaja that speaks better Arabic than me, but that’s secondary.)
There are two important points that Bentley clarified: Firstly, this is not just a film about Sudan, this is Sudanese cinema. In large part, the actors, artists, and producers involved in this film are Sudanese. Bentley stressed “Faisal Goes West is Sudanese cinema. Sure, it will be filmed outside of Sudan and away from the grips of the Sudanese government’s chokehold on cinematic expression, but it is a step, nonetheless, Sudanese encouraging one another (and anyone, really) to express themselves through film.” Secondly, this film revolves around the issue of identity, which is a major issue that affects Sudanese people socially and politically. As Bentley put it “in many ways, the story is a global one: family comes to America with high hopes, family hits a wall, family must rebuild in order to survive. Focusing on a coming-of-age character like Faisal offers a beautiful dive into issues of generational clashes, dignity, and identity–this last one is especially important to me, كخواجة متربي في تشاد . It is sad how easily we forget that people are people. Skin color, appearance, language, etc. are merely factors of a humanity that is in a rapid process of mixing and moving. In this sense, the most important issue that Faisal will address is that of identity. What does it mean for Faisal to be Sudanese? To be American? Not to mention the labels society places on him: “African,” “Arab,” “black”…and the list continues.”
Faisal Goes West is an important film, and I am thrilled that someone as talented, well-rounded, and driven as Bentley is leading this production which I am sure will garner international attention and will be, for the first time, a positive representation of Sudanese people in film. In his own words Bentley explains: “Documentaries largely reflect the international community’s interest in Sudan for mere political or feel-good humanitarian reasons–as if Sudan is a constant case study of suffering and people in need, and foreigners can be the ones to help. But I know Sudanese to be different–they are a people extremely diverse in language, background, politics, religion, and one aspect that is rarely conveyed is the sense of communal resilience present across Sudan and the Sudanese diaspora. This is what I want to convey through the characters in the film: a message of persevering, even when hardship catches you by surprise.”
Now that I’ve got you wrapped up in fluffy dreams about seeing a Sudanese film winning in Sundance, I need you to listen up and focus. Faisal Goes West needs your help to become a reality. Bentley is doing his part to bring about positive change for Sudanese people. Here’s what you could do:
– Make a financial pledge here in order to help the project reach its goal. The deadline is November 22nd, 2011.
-Talk about the film with your family, friends, online friends, and imaginary friends–basically everyone. Spread the word!
-Contact Bentley Brown if you have any talents that might be of use to the movie or if you have an important point you would like the movie to cover.
-Change your facebook/twitter profile photo to the movie poster (below) so you can get people asking about the film.
If you don’t do at least one of the above, it might mean Machine Gun Preacher is your favorite movie and you think George Clooney knows everything about ‘the Sudan.’
*Bentley Brown grew up in Ati, Chad, where his parents ran rural medical clinics. You can read more about him here.
UPDATE: The film got fully funded. This is happening. Thank you all for your support.